Monday, 9 September 2013

The Peregrine II

(Planet Of No Return and The Byworlder are right in front of me on a shelf. The damned things disappear as soon as I start to look for them.)

Poul Anderson's The Peregrine (New York, 1979) contains two place names that we remember from other works by Anderson: "Arctic Resort" (p. 24) and a planet called "Vixen." (p. 33)

We have had some discussion of Biblical passages quoted by Poul Anderson. There are three in The Peregrine:

"'The heavens declare the glory of God...and the firmament showeth his handiwork...An old Terrestrial book...Very old.'" (p.52);

"What shall it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and loseth his own soul?" (p. 77);

"Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place?..." (p. 116)

The first and third are spontaneous responses to stars seen from spacecraft. The second is appropriately applied to human beings barbarized by their enslavement of barbarians:

"Human speech and dress and dreams were being lost, as one by one the victors took over the patterns of their slaves." (p. 77)

If The Peregrine is read merely as an sf adventure, then it might be thought that its characters and conflicts are cliched but they are deeper than cliches and are worth reading carefully quite apart from their contribution to the plot. Anderson shows us no less than four interacting cultures:

Solarians - a cosmopolitan, cerebral, intellectual, analytic guilt culture;
Nomads - a mobile, practical, pragmatic, trading shame culture;
Erulani - an insular, barbaric, warlike, slave-owning, tribute-exacting fear culture;
Alori - an intuitive, holistic, symbiotic, Apollonian "...modified fear culture." (p. 153)

An Alorian recognizes that the Erulani are at least alive in the now whereas the Nomads "'...would have it forever day, not remembering night and storm.'" (p. 89) She speaks against cremation, arguing that, "'The land should be strong with your bones and blossom where you lived.'" (p. 89)

I favor cremation but this passage made me reconsider burial.

A Nomad says that a Solarian thinks too much whereas her people experience the universe by traveling through it but the Alorian comments that both Nomads and Solarians try to understand life from the outside, not as part of it. The Alori "'...gently...'" exterminated uncooperative natives of some planets that they wanted to colonize. (p. 145) The Solarian reflects that man's violent history has taught him that he must respect intelligent life whereas the Alori had evolved as a unified culture. These are profound issues for an adventure novel.

3 comments:

  1. Hi, Paul!

    I'm very interested to know THE PEREGRINE has at least four Biblical quotations. As you know, I've collected quite a few for a blog piece. I have to make another list and both the ones I've found elsewhere plus the ones you noted to it. And then add it to my old blog piece.

    Considering how Poul Anderson called himself an agnostic, it does seem suprising how often he quoted Scripture. I frankly wonder how much of an agnostic he truly was in his later years. But this kind of probing is probably indelicate of me!

    And I'm appalled at the very idea of "gently" exterminating races the Alori found uncooperative. That was TOTALLY wrong of them! Far worse than the Erulani being conquered by a few humans who were satisfied with being top dogs.

    And the fate of the humans who conquered Erulan was ironic. By the time of THE PEREGRINE the conquerors were becoming Erulanized. Similar things have happened so many times in real history. The English absorbing the conquering Normans, the Chinese assimilating the Manchus, etc.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    I have read to the end of THE PEREGRINE so the Biblical quotes are just four - but that is a lot.
    I share your revulsion at the exterminations but Trevelyan reflects that man's violent history has taught us to respect intelligent life whereas the Alori had evolved as a unified culture without conflict and therefore would have regarded eliminating uncooperative natives as just a natural or organic process without reflecting that they were killing beings who had an equal right to life. This moral blindness is one of their failings.
    Paul.

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  3. Hi, Paul!

    I agree, the cold blooded willingness of the Alori to exterminate "uncooperative" non Alori races is a VERY grave moral blindness of theirs. It reminded me of the at least EXPRESSED willingness of the Merseians to wipe out races which stubbornly refused to submit to their domination in the Technic History. The difference being that the Merseians did not evolve as a unified race with a nearly "hive mind" structure. So, in time, I would expect most Merseisns to shuck off ideas of racial supremacy.

    As for how Poul Anderson used Scripture, he used it quite often, not in every story, but quite often. I can't think of many other SF writers who quoted from the Bible in their works.

    Sean

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